With infection rates rising steadily and COVID-19’s third wave of variants now penetrating into all corners of the province, it is all too easy to focus on the immediate and familiar — the situation in your community, municipality or province — rather than the bigger, global picture.
Early on during the pandemic in 2020, we heard and read and saw much of what was happening in Europe, in places like Italy where the health system nearly collapsed, and there was much early news coverage when the virus first emerged in China.
Other areas such as Brazil or Russia or Africa managed to creep into the headlines, but almost incidentally.
This was hardly surprising, because at the time we all had our own COVID fish to fry.
And that hasn’t changed. But at the same time, it is hard not to be horrified and appalled by some of the news and images trickling out of places like India in recent weeks, where COVID’s embrace has morphed into a death-grip.
Recently, daily infection numbers in the southeast Asian giant accounted for nearly half the globe’s infection rates, and more recent numbers have seen daily infections now rising above 400,000.
And those are just some of the numbers we know about. It stands to reason in a country where the health system is nearing total collapse — or already has depending on some metrics — numbers likely far exceed the official statistics.
It all adds up to a health crisis of unprecedented proportions sweeping the Indian subcontinent.
Also recently, there have been 234,083 deaths since the pandemic first struck, and daily death figures are creeping toward the 4,000 mark, while most observers believe these statistics to be an undercount.
Hospitals are filled to capacity and are turning away desperately ill patients, and the need for oxygen supplies is beyond critical.
Just how many more lives will be claimed by the desperate and tragic situation in India is still anyone’s guess. Part of the problem, say analysts, has been the unco-ordinated and piecemeal approach to pandemic restrictions in India’s 28 federal states, and there are growing calls for a nation-wide lockdown to be better enforced by India’s federal government, similar to what was seen in the country back in March 2020.
Here in Alberta, that’s probably a refrain that many are already familiar with, given the varying approaches taken by the provinces, flip-flopping restrictions and loosened lockdowns, only to have hard restrictions imposed again when things begin to escalate out of control.
It has been a long and trying odyssey for Canadians in any province, and the mixed messaging from governments and back and forth restrictions have contributed mightily to COVID “fatigue.”
As we watch our own numbers still climb, the silver lining is an expanding vaccine rollout, still being identified as one of the best paths to shaking off the pandemic in 2021.
But at the same time, it is hard not to look at the example of countries like Australia, being praised far and wide for their response, which largely involved strong public health measures and hard-nosed enforcement of testing, tracing and quarantine.
Their government acted quickly rather than dithering, showed bipartisan unity rather than descending into ideological minefields, and engaged with communities at the ground level to ensure they received the support they need.
Australians are almost seeing their lives return to normal, while we have the highest infection rates on the continent.
The approach of our governments over the past year can’t be blamed solely for this situation, but hard questions will need to be asked in coming months and years about countless deaths that might actually have been prevented had we taken a different path.
The many victims of this pandemic deserve nothing less.
This editorial originated in the Lethbridge Herald.